The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

'Do the Right Thing' Is First Work of Art to Lend Its Name to a City Block

By Nicole Levy | July 23, 2015 8:36am

Maybe you hadn't heard of "Do the Right Thing," the groundbreaking Spike Lee film set in Bed-Stuy on a scorching summer day, until you watched this "Broad City" homage about catcalling.

More than a quarter-century after the 1989 release, it's still worth watching a movie that ignited a nationwide debate about race in America, inspired a generation of black directors, and opened doors for black film actors.

Now "Do the Right Thing" is setting a precedent as the first work of art to lend a city street its title as a secondary name.

Fighting the powers that be — in this case, New York City Council policy — "Do the Right Thing Way" is the exception among 50 other public places that a bill, up for approval Thursday by the Council, would co-name in honor of neighborhood do-gooders and celebrities. 

There are more than 1,500 streets in city with secondary names commemorating great men and women: Humphrey Bogart Place, Willie Mays Drive, Mother Teresa Way. There are so many, in fact, that city officials struggled to keep track of them all before retired urban planner Gilbert Taylor created a master list.

But the stretch of Stuyvesant Avenue between Lexington Avenue and Quincy Street will pay tribute to Rosie Perez's dancing, Radio Raheem's death, and the eight weeks Lee spent shooting his film there in the summer of 1988. 

It took a year of bureaucratic deliberation to make that happen, the councilman who proposed the idea, Robert Cornegy Jr., told us. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito's staff "worked very hard to be able to open this door to allow for iconic films and art to now have a place in the history of street co-naming," said Cornegy, who represents Bed-Stuy and grew up in the neighborhood.

Spike Lee was so enthusiastic about the prospect of a street named for his flick that he jumped the gun in an Instagram caption last year, the movie's 25th anniversary:


The city of New York hadn't actually changed the name, but it did allow for the installation of a provisional sign on the day the block hosted a party to celebrate its place in cinematic history. (Lee was emcee, Public Enemy the musical act.)

"We had a temporary street sign that was on display for that day," Cornegy recalled. "But we knew we would have to go back in and actually change policy in order to make it honest and true, and that took a year to do." 

That didn't stop Lee's production company from selling autographed "Do The Right Thing Way" signs for $250 each. 

After Thursday's vote, it'll be a few months before Department of Transportation installs the official sign and the city holds a ceremony to unveil it.

Other street names on the bill include Detective Clarence M. Surgeon Way, a nod to the Bed-Stuy police officer known for his civic advocacy, and Maxine Sullivan Way, a tribute to the Bronx-based jazz vocalist.